Saturday, March 26, 2011

Post No. 162b: 27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that "Lying" is Appropriate

Home Run King Barry Bonds is in the news again; however, this time, he may go to jail for lying about his use of steroids. For some reason, the theoretical and practical attitudes of our readers toward cheating (which arguably is a form of deceit, of which "lying" is a subset) differed dramatically from the responses we received during our prior effort to delve into the issue of honesty. Consequently, we are re-visiting our original post on the subject to see what happens when we separate the issue of honesty from the issue of steroid use.

© 2009, 2010, and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Laughingman and the Logistician have been friends for years. The Laughingman has laughed out of loud at some of the Logistician’s antics. He has also expressed bewilderment following comments by the Logistician, when there were highly desirable women in the room.

He would shake his head, and ask, “What in the world made you say that?” The Logistician would reply, “It’s the truth," which one would expect people to respect.

In case you haven’t figured out who is the more practical of the two, and who usually got the gal, there’s another Logistician story of note. He once had this girlfriend, who was stunning in every aspect imaginable. One day, she asked him whether he loved her. He replied in a perfunctory fashion, “Why yes, dear.”

But then she followed by asking, “But do you love me?”




All of his male buddies have since said that all he had to do was to simply say, “Yes.” (Coincidentally, as have his female friends.) But he didn't.

His response, after pausing no less, was, “What’s the definition of the second love which distinguishes it from the first?”

Aphrodite then replied, “You know. Do you love me?”

The Logistician never managed to provide a satisfactory answer.

To all who later questioned the wisdom of his choice, he calmly stated, “I was placed in a situation where I was asked to respond to something I did not understand. For me to have said ‘yes’ would have been a lie, without a definition being provided.”

There is a logical explanation for this madness. You see, he was screwed up way early in life. Not only did he have traditional societal, familial, and religious forces suggesting that he always tell the truth, but he also attended West Point. The Honor Code there prescribed that he, “not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do.”

He has tried to apply that principle (minus the toleration part) to his life, albeit not always successfully. However, he’s tried. One of his favorite quotes is from former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura: “When you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good recollection of what you previously said.”

And so it was with a great deal of consternation that the Logistician recently found himself in a heated conversation with a valued friend of 35 years, as to the responses one should provide to senior citizen relatives whose mental faculties are declining.

The friend argued that “a game” should be played with the relative, since that provides comfort, and the truth need not be told. He said that it was “unnecessary.” The friend also extended this reasoning to raising young children.

The next day, the Logistician shared this exchange with another mutual friend of 35 years. She suggested that the truth can shatter someone’s delicate perception of the world, and promptly supported the position of the first friend.

It made him wonder whether there are ends sufficiently important to justify out right lying. He also wondered whether there are dangers, so “clear and present,” to support such action. He thought about this a lot during the recent presidential campaigns: Is winning more important than telling the truth?

(Frankly, we’ve reached a point in our society where many aren’t quite sure what to believe from some purported news sources anymore.)

Back to the Logistician, he has always contended that when asked a specific question, he is required to provide a truthful response.

On occasion, he has recognized the value of silence, or momentary evasiveness, by posing, “Do you really want to ask that question?”

Many would argue that in cases of national security, it is appropriate to lie. But is it really? Some others would also argue that when you have a confidential relationship with someone, it is appropriate to lie, to those outside of that relationship.

And then there was our former President who only lied about sex.

If there are so many instances where it is appropriate, then when is it inappropriate to lie? (Apparently one can not lie if one is using performance enhancing drugs in a competitive athletic sport.)

Back to kids, is suggesting to a child that there is a Santa Claus, the Easter Bunnie, or the Tooth Fairy, a lie?

And what about that dying parent? Are lies appropriate at the death bed? What about the case of a patient who has terminal cancer, with only a short time to live?

If Congress poses a question to a member of the CIA, is the operative required to always provide the truth? Was Oliver North justified in lying to Congress about Iran-Contra?

Or was Jack Nicholson correct in A Few Good Men, when he said that, "[We] can’t handle the truth?”

P.S. By the way, you’re right. The Logistician is not very bright, and he lied. He did not provide 27 situations.

© 2009 and 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Should you desire to examine the comments from our readers the first time that we broached this subject, click here.


  1. What is a lie? Its a conflict between what a person says and what s/he believes to be the truth. The belief may be wrong, or just nonsense, but if someone DELIBERATELY says something not thought to be true, it is a lie.

    When a politician, for example, has 'forgotten' or even forgotten a fact being asked about - and gives an answer in line with a political position - it is a lie.

    So, a lie MAY be the truth - but if you THINK you are lying, you are!

    In any case, it's not what you do - it's why you do it.

    There is no comparison between the 'lie' to a nonsense question from a senile person, to the deliberate lie from a big-shot politician for money/votes/whatever.

    Lies may be essential to protect agents in an unfriendly nation.

    So are there good lies and bad lies? Of course there are.

    So what's the problem? I'll tell you. BELIEF is the problem. Both priests and politicians lie through their teeth most of the time, and sometimes it really matters. (Health-care reform anyone?)

    The Inspector likes to hear what you can do about things.

    Suspend your belief. Look for evidence. Even your convictions are probably the victims of liars.

  2. CorfuBob wrote: "What is a lie? Its a conflict between what a person says and what s/he believes to be the truth. The belief may be wrong, or just nonsense, but if someone DELIBERATELY says something not thought to be true, it is a lie."

    Some might forcefully argue that a lie is a deviation from what one understands to be the truth. Under that view, motive would appear to be irrelevant.

  3. I don't know, Inspector, I tend to agree with Corfubob on this one. Intent and knowledge is important. But I question his portrayal of priests as "lying through their teeth", I think they (for the most part) truly believe what they say and that removes the intent to deceive.

  4. As you say Inspector,the definition of a lie is one thing,and the motive for lying is another. The motive says something about how 'big' the lie is.

    Douglas, when i say 'priest' it includes the evil people at the top of the pile, who have tortured and burned hundreds of thousands of dissenters in the past on the basis of LIES. They did not then (or now) KNOW their claims to be true.

    To claim that beliefs of this kind are true is lying. Little priests at the bottom of the pile who are only allowed to wear cheap black dresses, know only where their salaries are coming from, but may believe much of what they are told to believe. They are not lying of course when they say "I believe God loves you" But do they say that?

  5. "Do the ends justify the means (the lies)

    Another dumb question. What answers are there but 'sometimes'or 'it depends'

  6. Douglas and CorfuBob on the same team regarding lying, and the role that intent and knowledge play....

    Let us pose this pair of questions to you.

    1) Ministers, rabbis, bishops, mullahs, priests, etc. What percentage of them actually have some form of personal communication with their God as their claim, and what percentage tell the truth 100% of the time when communicating with their followers?

    2) Church followers: what percentage of them actually believe that their version of God exists?

  7. So the bottom line is that truth is in the eye of the beholder, and left to him or her to choose when to lie?

  8. Corfubob (and Inspector), let me clarify. If someone truly believes something to be true and therefore repeats it, are they lying if:

    1. It is scientifically unprovable. Or...
    2. It is also believed by a majority of people within their environment. Or...
    3. It harms no one.

    A priest (or any religious authority figure) would not (to me) be lying if he preached anything he believed to be so. It would be up to his followers to decide if they, too, wished to believe it.

    As the Inspector knows, I am atheist. However, I have no problem whatsoever if others wish to believe in the supernatural. I think those who lie must know they are lying. It must be a deliberate act. Being wrong about something is not lying, it is merely being wrong.

    Having said that, I also think there are religious authorities who do lie, who do not believe what they preach. I just don't think it is all, or even many, of them.

    Were the doctors of the past who used shock treatments and bled people liars? Or were they doing what they thought (and were taught) was the right thing to do? Being wrong is not lying. It's just being wrong.

    Said yet another way, if someone tells me something I believe to be wrong, I do not say that person lied UNLESS I know that person knew it was wrong before they said it.

  9. Let's suppose that a President knows of a potential threat to the U.S., but does not disclose it, or consciously suppresses it to avoid a panic on the part of the citizens.

    A reporter at a press conference asks a very simple, point blank question, to which the President provides an answer which he knows is not true.

    A lie, even if necessary or justifiable?

  10. All of this appears to be terribly complex. Is this what parents teach their kids?

  11. Inspector, Yes, a lie. Possibly a necessary one but still a lie.

    Anonymous, I don't know about you but my parents had a rigid standard: no lying. Not even fibs. Of course, they violated that rule from time to time as they deemed necessary. At these times, if found out by us, they would provide an explanation justifying their violation.

    I did much the same with my own son.

    Still, a "white" lie is still a lie.

  12. We are repeating ourselves, over and over.

    Douglas "I think those who lie must know they are lying." By a definition we all agree on.

    Lies in the big arena can be life-saving and essentia.

    Lies by the priests serve no known purpose. Some priests believe the lies they were told. White lies are better than black lies.

  13. CorfuBob wrote: "Lies in the big arena can be life-saving and essential."

    Nice characterization, whether one supports the concept or not. For years, we have debated whether Col. Oliver North did the "right thing" in lying to Congress.

  14. House is one of our favorite shows. In the show aired this evening, House is visited by his Mother and Father, who seem like the perfect parents. After struggling through a meal with them in the hospital cafeteria, House retires to his office and plays a video game.

    In walks Cameron who speaks of the positive vibe that she felt in meeting his parents. House notes that his Father is very similar to Cameron, in that both are guided by an unyielding moral compass, which requires that they always tell the truth. He goes on to say that it is a great quality for boy scouts and police witnesses, but a crappy one for a father.

    We'll have to think further about that one for awhile.


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